What do you want to be when you grow up, asks farmer’s daughter Becca Watkins. It’s a pretty easy question if you’re a farmer’s son and half keen on this agriculture lark. But what about us daughters?
We can’t all be expected to set up house and sell organic cheese at country markets, can we? Has the land got any more to offer us than a life in wellies?
I have grown up on an 80-acre hill farm in deepest, darkest Herefordshire, approximately 4in from the Welsh border. I couldn’t have loved it more and back in the day I would have happily agreed to stay here forever. But as the end of school looms I’ve found myself in a bit of a pickle.
I’m passionate about the countryside and the people who spend their lives there but I’m not cut out to take over the farm. In my experience being a farmer requires far more common sense, intuition and gritty determination than I could ever muster, but it’s not an easy decision.
Five generations of my family have worked, cared for and improved our little piece of “severely disadvantaged” paradise. It’s terrible to think that if neither I nor one of my two younger sisters wants, or is able, to take it on, it’ll be chopped up into pony paddocks or left to return to nature by someone escaping to the country.
Even if it were farmed by someone else, I can’t see Dad watching from the window of a retirement bungalow and not hurling “advice” disguised as abuse at any unsuspecting successor.
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Nowadays it’s widely considered that if you’ve got any sense you’ll leave home and find your fortune away from farming. The appeal of working nine-to-five, with a guaranteed salary, a pension plan and holiday pay is a very real one. After all, farming isn’t just a job, it’s a commitment to a way of life.
I’ve thought about plenty of different career paths.
I can’t be a doctor because I’m not that great under pressure. A teacher is off the list as I’ve always hated the idea of teaching kids who don’t want to learn. The legal sector might be well suited as I’m fairly analytical, but it’s pretty cut-throat. Despite an idealistic dream of providing farmers and their families with an efficient, decent and understanding service in a small country firm it’ll be a long time before I get where I think I want to be. And what if I’ve changed my mind?
Perhaps I could become a journalist and witter on like this for a living.
I’m sure that I’d love Uni and moreover would learn so much; not only about my subject but also about myself and life in general. But studying something random when I have no idea about my final destination seems a risky way to spend time and money.
I’d hate to end up like the many hundreds of graduates who can tell you, without hesitation, repetition or deviation, how the chemical formula of your egg might be derived, but can barely boil it.
I do think, though, that we can’t just keep sending our clever girls off to be teachers or lawyers and expect there still to be a vibrant and forward-looking countryside. I feel almost a responsibility to stay in touch with my roots.
Rural life has provided me with a wealth of opportunities; from summer holidays spent in rivers and up mountains to YFC. I’m certainly not having my kids grow up as townies.
I’d love to give something back to a way of life that has given me so much, but it will never cease to surprise me that an industry is willing to turn away its brightest prospects.
Not nearly enough is done through schools and colleges to promote the diverse opportunities agriculture has to offer.
I was asked once by a friend (who, scarily, lives in a classic country home fully kitted out with the requisite Aga, Labrador and Hunter wellies) why on earth I would consider going to “farmer school” when my grades are high.
Studying at an agricultural college is seen as a cider-fuelled excuse not to work for three years. And although I know better than to believe the preconceptions of those too ignorant to look at any university not listed in the Times Good University Guide’s top 10, it makes me wonder if I’d be pushing myself hard enough.
So, with that to consider, might it be better for me to use my academic mind to make an impact further up the system?
A thriving, dynamic and modern agricultural industry is undeniably vital for global food security and maintenance of biodiversity while safeguarding the country’s unique appearance and the traditions that surround it. Farming should receive both the outside and intrinsic support it deserves to thrive.
None of that is possible without a generation of knowledgeable and intelligent people to ensure it.
The problem is perfectly demonstrated in DEFRA at the moment. How many of those highly influential characters have actually woken up at three in the morning to spend four hours and £80 having a vet do a Caesarean for a huge pedigree tup lamb that goes and dies before breakfast?
There is a great need to make farming less isolated, especially with the “us and them” mentality that everyone with a rural background suffers now and then. Maybe the farming community should encourage more of its own to head into the leadership roles and make a real difference for us all. We have to prevent more misguided legislation from crippling the future’s farmers before they’ve even started out.
Before I settle down I need to go off, travel a bit and discover how people live outside the valley; perhaps even give city life a go. It’s liberating and I’m immensely grateful for all the options I have.
I’m certainly not abandoning my wellies just yet Ð you can take the girl out of the countryside but you can’t get the countryside out of the girl. It’s in my blood, my breath and my heart and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Farmer’s daughters have a huge range of talents and knowledge that needs to be channelled into the sector we love.